By LAURA Reiley
Times Food Critic
It's hard not to think of the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercial: two great things that go great together. Get a big industrial Southern Pride smoker and take turns feeding in delicious gulf seafood and then slow-cooking pork ribs, prime rib, pork shoulder and chicken. It's even roughly the tagline for St. Petersburg's new Crab-BQ: "Where the smoker meets the sea."
The new concept, opened in December in the space vacated by Club 54 at the Days Inn, is the brainchild of Quynh Tran. Tran owns nearby H.I.S. Cabinetry and QT Construction, but he's a newcomer to the restaurant business. He has hired restaurant veteran Willie De Jesus to be general manager, who in turn has invited his brother Javier De Jesus (Pacific Wave, Shackleton's Folly) to oversee the kitchen for the short-term.
They're doing a lot of nice barbecue work, but the peculiar thing is that the seafood never gets its time shrouded by that flavorful smoke. Ocean offerings are all steamed or fried. It's a "separate but equal" approach that makes me a little wistful for some smoked fish spread, moist smoked salmon or novelty items like smoked oysters or scallops. No matter, there's still plenty of good stuff.
I'd say the menu is still too sprawling and hard to pin down. Pulled pork sandwiches and sushi? When do you want those in the same meal? And a raft of unremarkable pastas just seem like they're hedging their bet. Here's what to get: smoked prime rib ($13.95), a flavorful, juicy cut with great texture and not too much smoke, served with a sinus-excavating horseradish sauce. It gets finished off on the grill to order (thus the grill marks), but don't worry if it's not super rare looking. The smoker changes the color and texture slightly, but it stays moist and rich.
Second best: smoked half chickens ($9.95), which spend a day marinating, then get smoked about halfway to doneness before getting finished off in the oven. Again, a good amount of smoke but not overwhelming, giving the chicken that moister, pinker meat. I was less tickled by the big pork ribs ($11.95, $15.95), but they are indeed tender, their sauce a little sweet and lacking in heat for my taste.
It's a casual place, as much bar as restaurant, with live music and DJs on the weekends, game watching and karaoke merriment on Wednesdays. Servers are appropriately low-key and friendly, but I'd like to see them bumble less on the details (soup spoons, side dishes, refills). Still, they minister to your needs (another beer, please) as you sit at a picnic bench on a pretty day performing careful dissection on a pound of snow crabs ($6.95) or blue crabs ($22 a dozen) flecked with Old Bay. Add in a sinful order of housemade potato chips topped with luscious cheese sauce, chives and sour cream ($6.95), and ask her to keep the napkins coming. Now doesn't that sound like an afternoon well spent?
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs. tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.